Judging Books, Not Just the Cover

The old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I admit to doing this all the time. How else am I supposed to choose between the thousands of titles staring at me in the library or bookstore? I can read every dust jacket but seriously, who has time for that? While doing some research, I ran across a quote from William Zinsser that touched on this topic, “Writing is visual– it catches the eye before it has the chance to catch the brain.” True that!

A lot of people ask me for book recommendations. I’m delighted by this because I love talking about books. I feel like I can get to know that person a little more by inquiring about what they’ve read before and what they most enjoy. The writer in me is also very visual. I’ll tell you what I do to select books if it’s not off some random list online. The first thing I do when browsing the bookshelves is see what titles catch my eye visually. Is the font appealing? Is it too crowded on the spine? Did they use catchy words? Are the colors pleasant? I then open the book to find out how long chapters are. If they go on for more than 7 or 8 pages, it’s most likely not going to make the cut (blame my short attention span). I read the back cover or dust jacket for a captivating synopsis. Did the book or author receive awards worth noting? Has the author published other titles I read or want to read? Does the setting take place in a part of the world (or another world) that I may find interesting to learn about? I scan the book for spacing and more visual cues. Did they choose a nice typeface? Is there sufficient spacing between chapters or any blank pages out of place? Then I pick a chapter and read the first page. If it doesn’t catch me by this point, I put it back on the shelf.

It’s not so much judging a book by it’s cover but it is judging with a lot of visual aspects in mind. Honestly, who wants to read a book they can’t bare to look at for long?

So what am I reading lately? Check out my Goodreads page for constant updates. I also serve as the Books Editor for DanaBarrett.com and discuss the latest in the book world there. If you are interested in more about typography or want to see a really well put together book on the standards of type, check out Buttrick’s Practical Typography.  It’s a beautiful (free) e-book with heaps of information.

Happy reading!

Elizabeth Gilbert, I Owe You One

In 2012, I purchased a Netflix subscription. On the rare occasion that I felt compelled to watch a rom-com, I rented Eat, Pray, Love. At the time, I had no idea it was based on a book. As my girlfriends went on and on about their opinions of the story, I knew I had to watch it. What is it about women’s literature that brings out the opinionated female lit critic? I really enjoyed watching Julia Roberts prance around the globe. I lived vicariously through her for 133 minutes. In order to consider myself a true critic, I picked up the book. Technically, I sat on a waitlist for a couple of weeks in order to rent it from my local library. And I loved it! As crabby as everyone made Elizabeth Gilbert sound, the story really hit home for me. You see, I was on her side. I was rooting for her to leave a crummy marriage, to enjoy romantic worldly love affairs, and embrace the yogic lifestyle. I was comforted to see that someone could do it. I felt that same itch. The itch that says, “You deserve better”. So I took off too. I chose New Zealand over India and Peru over Italy. Nonetheless, my life has followed the same plot as a romantic comedy ever since then.

Two years since my journey began, I’m back stateside writing my memoirs and sharing my story with others. You could say Elizabeth Gilbert was a big influence on my plans and there’s no denying the influence she projects on me. I like to think we have a similar sarcastic tone and humor in our writing. Recently, a friend shared her TED talk about creative genius. She talks about how her best work may be behind her and her opinion on the pressure society puts on artists. I too struggled with my creativity and connected with the issues. Then, for whatever reason, the universe plopped her book Committed in my lap. And again, the parallels ran amok. She describes the adventures of loving and living with a non-US resident. Her deep dive into the history of marriage, commitment, fidelity, monogamy, and women’s rights was even closer to home for me, as someone who never cared for marriage. I related. So I read.

Perhaps my Elizabeth Gilbert web is strung pretty tight these days. She keeps popping up and I can’t ignore her. I have yet to read her latest or other friends’ favorites. It’s probably because they are less relatable to my current circumstances. You can love her or hate her, but it’s hard for me to ignore her influence in my life. The striking similarities are comforting. I am put at ease that crazy lives like ours can exist successfully.   

 

Treasure to Trash

I’ll be the first to admit, getting stuff for free is awesome. I am walking down the street and something catches my eye. Feelings of excitement and anticipation rush through my body. More often than not, it’s not something I need, but I like rummaging through things and striking gold. Portland has heaps of street corners with treasure. In my opinion, now the problem is that these intersections have become somewhat of a dumping ground.

I have scored some pretty sweet finds on the streets of Brooklyn and Portland. So much stuff that I don’t feel the need to buy things anymore. I feel like it will find me when I really need it. I’ve even honed in on the right time to “shop”. End of the month and days after a garage sale are best. But if you wait too long, you’ll find that most of the stuff is picked over. Wait two more days, and the treasure appears more like garbage. It looks old, soggy and smelly; so you move on.

Some of my coolest finds have come from the streets of Park Slope, BK/NYC. Shelving, tables, chairs, paintings, and countless books have stocked my apartments. I’d always have a good laugh with my roommates when we’d arrive home from work, each with a new piece to add to our eclectic decor. I can’t stand Ikea furniture, for one, so when a new piece of furniture shows up in my life, I treat it with care. “Nothing a good paint job can’t fix” is my motto!

I digress, the issues remains. These once intriguing street corners with funky finds have transformed into the neighborhood trash bin. Rubbish collects by the day and unattractive areas are popping up everywhere. Just look!

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This has to end (If there is an app for this, please let me know)! I propose that the city or county (or some private companies) that maintain the garbage and recycling, should provide bins for things discarded on street corners. Each week, they should get cleaned. Cuz ew. That’s really the only solution I could come up with since seeing the junk piling up nearby a few days ago. I realize taxpayer money is at stake in this proposed case, so please, let’s discuss. Thoughts?

The Tangled Webs We Weave

Have you ever gotten the feeling that once you think about a certain topic, for some reason, it keeps popping up in your life? You become amazed at the signs of the universe and how they must be telling you something? When I was considering moving to New Zealand, all signs were firing at me to do it. Everyone I met had some connection to that place or a story to share. My friend Vibha has a theory on this. I tend to agree with this theory and share it with lots of people.

If you think of the mind as a spiderweb, you soon realize that instead of coincidences or “signs”, you are simply grabbing onto the thoughts and moments in your web because you’ve woven it in such a way. Ideas, discussions, songs, books, people… these things are always present in your life but only when you weave this web do you “catch” certain the ones you are thinking about. You’ve chosen to pay attention to the things you’re most interested in at that moment. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about two places: Costa Rica and Tanzania (specifically, Zanzibar). And wouldn’t you know it, everyone I meet has some connection to either or both of those spots. Every book I pick up at the library mentions these destinations and every coffee I drink is from there. Every movie has a line about it. Or every drink has a fruit from there. Okay, maybe not every but you get the point. 

This gives me some confidence in the power of the mind. I like to think I can weave my spiderweb to bring me things. I can fish for whatever is out there and come up successful (unlike most of my fishing attempts on real water). So while I’m weaving my web today, I’ll be thinking of cash. Loads of it. 

The Word Love

Based on an ongoing debate I have with my partner about the use of the word “love”.

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When trying to synonymously match a word like love, one must first consider what.

What of the word are you trying to change? The word in the verb form? As a noun? Because it does both.

What about the word isn’t working for you the way it currently stands?

A multi-functional word like love is nearly impossible to replace. As I understand it, the need to change it is based on it’s abuse and mis- or overuse. But a lot stands in your way.

Unlike “like”, love is not a comparison word but more of a state of being.

And not like “lust”, love is a feeling type emotion you achieve through deeper connection.

Is the concern that it’s too of permanent, like it can’t be taken back once proclaimed? I fear that sometimes.

My issue is that it’s used so universally to express interest in things like music, books, coffee. And especially when I tell people like family I love them, I don’t feel the same kind of love for you.

Not to offend, simply stating a difference.

Because what I feel for you can be felt through my whole body, across time, and beyond borders.

What I feel is a respect of sorts for your mind and body and a subsequent craving to have more of it at my disposal.

This love isn’t a dependent thing either. Nor is it a pretense for something bigger.

It’s a connection I feel for you, a comfort in knowing you feel something too and want it in your life at this moment.

Is it that what you feel is so strong that using the word love wouldn’t do it justice? That only 4 letters is too simplistic and short?

The good news is that using a word like love leaves little question. It’s definitive and gives you warm and fuzzies. And that it transcends lots — a sweeping statement in 1 word really.

But I don’t want that either.

I want a word that I can say to you and there is no question what I’m feeling. This is where affection and action compliment speech.

So much like no nicknames haven’t stuck, I continue the search for a word or perhaps invent new ones as we go. We have time on our side.

Moments, Not Words

Inspired by The Book of Awakening daily reading on July 8, 2014 entitled Moments, Not Words

When I think about a way to sum up my stay in Portland, I can’t think of any one place or thing that stands out. The entire summer has been incredible but there are a few moments that come to mind. There have been times when I’m talking to a friend or walking about and I stop to think, “This is delightful. I’m really happy right now”. It would be too daunting to read each of my experiences but a quick rundown is in order to give you a better sense of life in Rose City. Things I’ve done: Reggae, roots and Ethiopian music shows at Alhambra Theater, a comedy show at Hollywood Theater, Pedalpalooza rides that filled the month of June, sunsets at Skidmore Bluffs and Rocky Butte, Fourth of July fireworks on a boat in the Willamette, High Rocks watering hole, Sauvie Island girls’ day trip, reading (and sometimes napping) in the parks filled with sweet scents and tall evergreen trees, early morning World Cup soccer watching at the pub, finding a new favorite grocery in New Seasons, Powell’s, house sitting at cool homes for even cooler people, a birthday party at the park for my nephew with a 3-tiered chocolate and peanut butter cake we transported by bike, sipping tereré (the Paraguayan iced version of yerba maté) with friends, single-origin chocolate tastings around town, and countless coffees and brunches. None of this would have been possible without the care and support of my brother who moved here 17 years ago and always encouraged me to join him. I feel confident to now call Portland my west coast home. During a recent comedy show, Jerrod Carmichael claimed he loved Portland but didn’t really understand what goes on here. “It’s like you guys are just one big non-profit” he said and the audience roared with laughter. He’s right.

The other day, I was describing a place to visit on an off-night when we didn’t have much else going on. I mentioned that this hip spot was a bike shop slash cafe slash bar slash art gallery slash event space. It’s called Velo Cult. It made no sense to my friends. But we all later agreed that in Portland, this place makes sense. After an afternoon of the best pizza in town and yoga in the park, we rode to Velo Cult for some chill out time. The first thing my friend said to me when we walked in was how anyone who comes to Portland should go to this place. It is a mainstay. In her eyes, she just walked into the coolest place in town. And I agreed. The only thing missing was a library. Then, the books appeared. A small group of books about bikes was sitting at the main table in the middle of the room. As we sipped our drinks, we browsed through books about the world’s best rides and made a short bucket list for our 10-year plans. As we were leaving, a man was browsing the shop and taking photos. As he approached our table, he mentioned he just arrived from Vancouver BC and needed his bike repaired. Velo Cult was his first stop. He proclaimed he felt like he arrived at — wait for it — the coolest place in town. We all agreed. It’s not that other cities aren’t cool or hip too, it just feels like it’s encouraged behavior here and you are given the space to express yourself freely.

That moment stood out to me. I walked away thinking that this was the coolest city and I made the right choice in coming back. Bridgetown, Stumptown, Rip City, whatever you call it, is made for people like me who crave creativity, expression, and not a overwhelmingly big-city feel. Cool things happen here.

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(photo by Isaac Spedding)

Gentrification in Portland

The second ride I took during Pedalpalooza was Le Tour de Gentrification, co-hosted by super cool blogger and ride enthusiast Hart Noecker (Rebel Metropolis) and professor and former council candidate Nicholas Caleb. A full rundown of stops and discussion can be found here.

Here’s the thing… I don’t claim to know much about Portland despite having spent a couple of summers here. What I do know is that it’s changed. Another thing I know is that I’m a minority. From a city recently buzzing with gentrification news (hey Atlanta!) and also claiming another gentrified borough (where Brooklyn at?!), I’m in the thick of the gentrificated (I made up a word there) life.

Gentrification. I’ve heard the term thrown around a lot. I’ve never heard it more used and abused than during my stints in PDX. Embarrassingly enough, I’ve never taken the time to learn about it. In another related event, a friend of mine from Atlanta, who also lived in Brooklyn, sent me this article about hipster economics. And so began my deep dive into the etymology, history, happenings, and news in gentrification. I felt it was only fitting that I ride along and learn more about Portland’s rich gentrification history. I got schooled in the best of ways.

Here I am, living in NE Portland, oblivious to the history in my own backyard. We began cycling in the SE but quickly clustered several stops right down the street from my new home. How could I be so oblivious? Then I thought, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re new.

Being new to the city has it’s perks. Most people are welcoming, offering to network and help you meet others. Then some people give you this look like, “Oh, welcome. I guess.”. As if I’m spoiling it for the rest of them, bringing my high-paying NYC salary to little old Portland to raise the rents. Little do they know, I’m unemployed and struggling to make ends meet too.

As we toured, discussions ensued and I did what I do best: sit back (more like lean on my bike) and listen, conjuring up questions to ask once people were long gone. Afterwards, my friends and I ventured on our own to eat dinner and discuss. It was a healthy discussion but left me more confused than ever as to who’s side I was on. Or whether I needed to choose sides at all. Sure, I get it. Gentrification has done some bad stuff. But how can we reverse the damage? And isn’t it kind of a cyclical thing that happens in every major city? Why weren’t we also talking about the black-owned businesses that are thriving due to the new neighbors or the people who fought to stay and open up community housing vs. lame, ugly condos? Perhaps I’m still the lost lady who’s new in town.

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Maybe I’m not bold enough to form an opinion aloud. Maybe I don’t like to speak up unless I feel I’ve done my research. I consider this ride step one in that direction. Learning the history about Portland was the biggest lesson. I need to know more about where I live, what’s happened here before I arrived, and what are the plans for the future. If I plan on staying longer than a summer, it’s my civic duty to know these things. And I’m grateful we rode that night to start the conversation.

Oregon Historical Society Time Capsule

Inspired by my friend Esther’s recent adventure, I played tourist in Portland. When I move to a new city, I found the quickest way to get to know the city is to attend Meetup groups. This time around, I signed up for a group with fellow East Coasters. The host proposed an event during the day/lunch hour when a time capsule from 1984 would be unveiled by the Oregon Historical Society. I was uber excited about it because I was born that year and could see items from my birth year.

Pioneer Square was the location, a local tourist destination and affectionately known as “Portland’s Living Room”. It’s a public meeting place constructed in red bricks and occupies an entire city block. Upon construction 30 years ago, the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) buried a time capsule with items that symbolized Portland at the time.

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Among the contents were cassette tapes (Madonna!), Nike sneakers, a boombox, a Portland parking meter head, local wines and beers, 1984 currency, Portland restaurant menus, newspapers, TriMet (public transit) tickets and booklets, phone books, maps, videotapes, utility and food bills for a family of four, 1980’s attire and photos.

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The time capsule was opened in front of a crowd of tourists, nearby employees on their break, school children on field trips, and of course, randoms like me. While watching the kids ooh and ahh at the contents, viewers walked around a table with the contents on display. Not many were in perfect condition (paper ended up pretty damaged) and the OHS volunteers were scrambling to put things out without damaging the contents further. The school children were asking their teachers what phonebooks were and why we listened to music on such big music players like boomboxes. It was at that moment I really felt my age. There was a suggestion box for recommendations on what to bury that reflected times today. Only one thing came to mind… a smartphone. Everything is in those: apps, music, photos, video. Our entire lives really. I wondered if kids in 30 years would know what to do with the smartphones of today. I sat and daydreamed on the bricks for a few more minutes then headed home.

Make It Quick

Concision is an art. Well crafted sentences are rich with language and deliver a clean punch. Words like just, really, very, get, and clearly are detriments to the English language. We use them recklessly hoping to boost our word count. Deep into the edits of my first novel, I’m learning a hard lesson in concision; writing a chapter in as many words as necessary without sacrificing descriptive storytelling.

I recently tried my hand at short stories or flash fiction. It was great practice for those wanting to be brief but it was no easy task. It was as if I wanted to use more words simply because I knew there was a limit to what I could write. I’ve even tried writing haikus. They made no sense to the average reader and it felt more like math than poetry. The only place I think I’ve mastered the art of concision is on Twitter.

When I first discovered I used the passive voice a lot in my writing, I was devastated. I was embarrassed at my poor grammar but I didn’t know how to break the habit. After a recent writing conference, I learned about the Erasmus exercise. Find 10 or more ways to write the same sentence and you’ll be surprised by the possibilities. It was a great way to overcome writer’s block and to experiment with my writing. Now whenever possible, I use the active voice.

In an effort to listen to my own advice, I’ll stop here. You get the point.

Saving Face

I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have plans to return any time soon. I realize this puts me at a disadvantage in some ways but I’m also celebrating it’s absence in my life for 3 years. I often get weird looks for being the only one at the dinner table not on Facebook. I get pleas to return too (mostly from close friends and family). Then there’s that one person that says, “Oh you’re the smart one here,” that assures I made the right decision.

But why? What was it that pushed me to delete my account? Well, a lot of things brought me to the final decision. Without being melodramatic about it all, ultimately it was my lack of privacy. I made the mistake of making too many “friends” and sharing information with people I really didn’t know. Facebook changed a lot that year and I was lost in the settings one day when I jumped on the road to deletion.

This doesn’t mean I’m a social media snob nor am I a newbie. I like Twitter and Tumblr. Instagram is my jam! Honestly, that’s plenty to keep up with. That’s heaps of updating, refreshing, and feeding to fill a day with news and nonsense. If Facebook was another thing I checked throughout the day, I’d be far less productive.

Sure I’m missing photos of my nieces and nephews, friends’ babies (ha!), graduation announcements, and party invites. That just means I go out of my way to stay in touch with the people I really care about. I set aside time each week to email (think long form Facebook messages) a few friends I haven’t talked to in a long time. If I’m feeling extra nostalgic, I’ll pop a postcard in the mail. Or worse, a phone call!!

There were a few times I gave in and made comeback. I thought it would be an epic event. I’d post an update and people would celebrate my return with a party (I guess you could say Facebook also brought out the narcissist in me). When I covertly re-opened my account, I was completely lost on my own homepage. I was overwhelmed by the changes and immediately closed the account again. I even tried starting fresh. You know, new-year-new-me sorta thing. Same result.

That’s me though; sticking to what I know best and being greedy with my time online. I won’t say I’ll never be back but in the meantime, you know where to find me.